Gerry GrantHistory of the Cross - The Midsummer Madathon

By Gerry Grant



On the 11 March 1983, a novel Charity Challenge was issued by the Inverness branch office of the Fire Services National Benevolent Fund in the Northern Fire Brigade to 10 civil emergency services and military units in the Highland area.


The challenge was for teams of 3 to cross the Scottish Highlands from Loch Duich through Glen Affric to Inverness, a distance of about 60 miles; firstly by foot for 15 miles and then by bicycle to the Highland capital.  Each team to be sponsored for a minimum of 100, mainly to benefit the newly launched, Highland Scanner Appeal.


The event had been dreamt up by 2 serving Fire Officers, Gerry Grant and Calum Munro.  It was initially based on Gerry's experience, 2 decades previously, of cycling and walking the above route from east to west.  However, typically inspired lateral thinking by Calum early on, determined the better choice of direction for the event, west to east, and also for the truly apt title of The Midsummer Madathon.


Another officer, Graham MacLean, was quickly recruited to complete the organising team: his comprehensive local knowledge and pragmatic skills complemented Calum's administrative flair and prolific industry in establishing the fundamentals of a long running success story.  Remarkably, this triumvirate were to provide an unbroken dedicated service to the cause until 2004 when both Gerry and Graham retired, after a three year transition period, handing over to a new team headed by Calum and John Fraser.


The challenge was circulated to: The Ambulance, Police, Prison and Fire Services; the Army, Navy and Air Forces as well as medical sources and mountain rescue teams.  Seeking a positive response, the organisers made the invitation deliberately provocative - "can you compete with record breaking firemen - you might not beat them but you will enjoy!"  They hoped to attract at least 5 teams to an event which, even for the elite athletes, would be a demanding physical test over a long distance.


The outcome is now history.  The invitation unleashed a frenzy of enquiries; requests for multiple teams from organisations (some claiming unlikely emergency service status to do so)  and others querying the rules, course conditions, weather prospects, choice of clothing, bikes etc.  Unexpectedly, women also clamoured for entry.  As the team applications grew beyond the planned 5 or so teams to a mind boggling 42 applications by the closing date, it was clear the Madathon was to be a "Sport for all" occasion for walkers, joggers and runners rather than one solely for top class athletes.  Accordingly, serious upgrading adjustments had to be made to all the logistical planning and, most importantly, to the safety arrangements: after all, one mini bus might do for 5 teams (15 persons) but 126 bodies now needed buses and a flat-back lorry was totally inadequate for well over 100 bikes!


After a frenetic period of sustained planning and preparation the The Midsummer Madathon took place on the 25 June 1983 - an absorbing long day for entrants, organisers and the small army of helpers alike.  It proved to be an unqualified success, far beyond the modest aims of the organisers, both in terms of sport and charity fundraising.


On the day, 41 teams lined up at Morvich and of the 123 starters, as many as 113 finished in the Highland Rugby Club's car park in Inverness, with only 10 failing to complete the course; thankfully, none for serious injuries.  And oh yes!  The Fire Brigade top team of Gordon Fraser, Gordon Gillespie and Ray Maclennan emerged outright winners with Gordon Fraser first home in a time of 4.24.58.


On Wednesday 20 July 1983, the still bemused organisers handed over 10,000+ to a grateful chairman of the Highland Scanner Appeal.  The final total donation came to over 12,000, with about 1,000 shared among 4 other charities.


Nobody knew at the time that this one-off event was to be significant precursor of the enduring annual Highland Cross and that, for those involved, the Midsummer Madathon will always be remembered for setting the standards, the principles and the special ethos associated with this unique coast to coast midsummer charity duathlon.

Past Results